EUROPA LEAGUE: ARSENAL BREEZE PAST CSKA MOSCOW 4-1
Arsenal were scintillating Last night and will take a commanding lead with them to Russia for next week’s second leg and can, surely, already expect a place in the semi-finals of the Europa League.
With their season on the line, Arsenal delivered a masterlass with Mesut Ozil the magnificent orchestrator although before anyone should get too carried away there was, as ever, that nagging doubt because he only really comes alive against modest opposition .Still Ozil took wonderful advantage of the space afforded to him and lit up the night.
Arsenal were full of goals with Aaron Ramsey – who really should have had a hat-trick – and Alexandre Lacazette both scoring twice in a first-half blitz. It really should have been more though.
Even so, in a competition that has taken on such importance to Arsenal and to their manager Arsene Wenger, whose future is in the balance, Arsenal were far from defensively solid themselves. They conceded one goal and could have let in even more and to win this trophy, and to earn that precious salvation of a Champions League place, they will have to be far more Defensively secure.
Apart from the away goal and occasionally being run ragged by CSKA’s on-loan Leicester City forward Ahmed Musa the only other concern for Wenger was the loss of Henrikh Mkhitaryan to an apparent knee injury.
CSKA claimed a clean sheet on their previous away game against Arsenal, for a Champions League tie, and so fielded the same defence – except that goalless encounter was a dozen years ago and their three-man, creaking backline now has a combined age of 108. And emphatically there would be no clean sheet on this occasion.
They were cut through time and again and, not least, for Arsenal’s first goal with a rapid exchange of passes – Jack Wilshere to Ozil and out wide right to Hector Bellerin who smartly pulled the ball back to Ramsey and he slammed it high into the net.
That would surely settle Arsenal? Regular watchers of this team know that there is something fundamentally vulnerable about this Arsenal team and so expectedly they quickly and needlessly conceded. It came after a rash foul by their captain Laurent Koscielny who clumsily gave away a free-kick on the edge of his own penalty area. Up stepped Aleksandr Golovin – on Arsenal’s radar as a possible signing – and he curled a superb free-kick which caught out Petr Cech as it swung inside a post. Cech was playing with cup goalkeeper David Ospina ruled out for up to three weeks through injury.
CSKA had an away goal and should have had two when Musa simply pushed the ball past Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi but then shot wastefully into the side-netting.
It proved a vital miss as Ozil took over. He played another one-two with Ramsey and burst into the area and although he was already stumbling over Georgi Schennikov made an unnecessary challenge and Ozil went down.
Initially it did not seem Czech referee Pavel Kralovec was going to give the penalty but, after vehement appeals led by Ramsey, he correctly relented and pointed to the spot. From there Lacazette drilled a low shot to beat goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
The pick of the goals followed and Ozil and Ramsey were once more central to it as the former, after another sharp whirl of passes, dinked the ball through. It picked out Ramsey who improvised wonderfully to volley the ball in mid-air with the outside of his right boot with it looping over Akinfeev. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Exquisite goal.
It helped that Ramsey had been left completely unmarked and so, minutes later, was Lacazette. On his return to the starting line-up, after a long injury lay-off and with Wenger hailing him as a new signing almost, the striker scored again.
Once more there was an assist from Ozil who hit the byline and pulled back a cross that a ponderous Aleksei Berezutski should have cut out. Instead it ran to Lacazette who again beat Akinfeev.
It meant there had been five goals in just 26 minutes and, remarkably, even though there were a host of other chances that was it. Despite their dominance it was not just Arsenal creating those opportunities with CSKA proving wasteful also – Alan Dzagoev blazed over after more good work by Musa as did Schennikov, twice, while Cech blocked from makeshift striker Pontus Wernbloom.
For Arsenal Mkhitaryan shot wide, when he had to score, Ramsey half-volleyed over, when he had to score and the midfielder went closest of all as he met a short pass from substitute Alex Iwobi only for his first-time, curling shot to rebound back off the post.
As the clock ticked and the result was not in doubt the CSKA fans took off their shirts to make their own entertainment. Meanwhile the stands became even more barren as the Arsenal supporters drifted away early. But at least their season might not end empty-handed.